Going Too Far
Upon finding a group of hackers in the MIT Faculty Club after hours last October, the campus police reacted by filing charges of felony breaking and entering against the students. In the subsequent four months, MIT's administration has remained callously uninvolved in the situation. Not only is the police's Draconian reaction to a minor infringement by members of our own community wholly unjustified, but the administration's lack of response to the charges is deplorable.
For the MIT police to charge three MIT students who were found exploring after hours indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of their mission: to provide a police presence that is suitable for our community. Given the well-established tradition of hacking at the Institute, the appearance of students in restricted areas of campus should not raise the same level of alarm as finding a group of random people in those same locations. This long-standing community standard was formally enshrined in a policy instituted last year that outlines a procedure for handling such incidents entirely within MIT, enforcing community service as punishment for students caught wandering where they shouldn't. That the MIT Police completely ignored this policy indicates a lack of respect for the student body.
What is particularly alarming is the severity of the charges being leveled, particularly given the circumstances in which the student were caught. There are serious questions as to whether the students are actually guilty of breaking and entering, given their testimony that they simply took the elevator to the Faculty Club without having to bypass any restrictions. It is also important to note that it is ultimately MIT's decision to declare whether or not students are allowed in the Faculty Club at night or not. If convicted, the students facing charges would potentially suffer a lifetime of closed doors, social stigmas, job refusals, and even the loss of voting rights in some states.
While the MIT Police have overreacted to the situation, the MIT administration has underreacted. Since late October, three MIT students have been unduly subjected to extraordinary fear and stress while the Institute's leaders have stood idly by. This week, senior administrators have indicated that they will try to have this situation resolved internally. Why has it taken MIT four months to make the obviously correct decision? How was it that the MIT Police was able to make such a rash decision without any manner of oversight?
The MIT administration claims to value our hacking culture — celebrations of past hacks are proudly displayed within our halls, along our lobbies, and in our museum. Campus tour guides are directed to highlight past hacks, and new hacks are routinely featured on the MIT homepage. Given all of this, how can the administration possibly justify letting the MIT police ruin three students' lives for doing exactly what it usually glorifies?
It is not too late for this situation to be salvaged. The Tech calls upon the MIT Police and the administration to quickly take all steps necessary for charges to be dropped against the three students. The Tech also calls on the administration to publicly reaffirm its commitment to deal with such situations through internal reviews, and to use community service as the standard for punishment. Finally, the administration must work with students to review and clarify the role of our campus police. Only then will the MIT community begin to rebuild trust in our police and administration.